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Thread: PG-rated : 40 reasons to think that the Japanese are superficial

  1. #76
    Tubthumper JimmySeal's Avatar
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    Cute and Furry Ewok85's Avatar
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    Most of the time I am the lone foreigner that's made his way into a fully Japanese environment - be it at work or my hobbies, I sit back and listen to what's going on. Usually not much.

    For example I go into a pub I enjoy in Tokyo, order a drink and sit down. At the bar is about 5 or 6 foreigners, mainly English but also an American and someone from mainland Europe. Conversation covered global warming, the fun fun policies of the Bush administration, Iraq, Iran, Muslims in England and multiculturalism, Richard Dawkins and atheism, talking about best selling books and how authors "do it", and then they went off about the university hiring system and my friends arrived. We sat down and talked about a few things and had a good talk about AIDS and manipulation of statistics, and the bar was starting to fill up and there was only 2 of us taking up a 4 seat table, so I waved over two ladies who had been standing up.

    Conversation flicked over to the usual first-time details - name, age, country, favourite foods and what the weather is like (because its like, all crazy and backwards in that funny country called Oztralia on the other side of the globe), usual shock at me being only 20 but looking 27 (apparently), usual talk about girlfriends, etc. When things got boring I chatted to my friend some more about what he had been doing lately and where he had been, and gave some suggestions.

    For the rest of the night the pair were pretty quiet until I ordered some food and then the usual food questions for about an hour...


    There are other times, for example at Shorinji training (martial art) I'll talk to the parents or adult kenshi (practitioners) who ask the usual questions, which means I have it down to a fine art now. Surprisingly no one tends to ask much about my job (IT関係 or コンピュータについて explanations), while most foreigners will ask "what do you do exactly?" and I'll go more in depth.

    Conversation with my girlfriends friends (adults and university students alike) rarely stray far from food, fashion, "the usual questions", sex or money. Its kinda bizarre, I've spent allot of time with adults and they'll usually talk to me about their interests if they think it will help (investing mainly, also about their jobs, interest tidbits like guitar tips, motorcycle wisdom, etc) and also talking about current events ("how about that Iraq? Is that a bloody mess or what?").

    While the American elections for the Senate made the news and was talked about with my friends who are Australia, English and Canadian, there wasn't even a mumble in Japan, a country who has close ties to America. I didn't even know that the Prime Minister had changed until I noticed weeks later on the internet that his name has 首相 next to it on a news article!

    I don't know whether to say Japanese are superficial and shallow, or if socially that's just how it works. I'll often come across something on the web that's controversial and bounce it off my (Japanese) girlfriend to get her opinion, and she can debate pretty well with me, but seems to just not care.
    (Example: Iraq. I told her about an incident recently where Bush said that in-part the invasion of Iraq was about oil - also that its not a "war", but an invasion and occupation, and slowly the media and government is using those terms as well. She wasn't really interested as it has no relation to her, until I pointed out that petrol prices have risen as a direct result of the unrest in the middle east (we were walking past a petrol station which reminded me))
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  3. #78
    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ewok85 View Post
    While the American elections for the Senate made the news and was talked about with my friends who are Australia, English and Canadian, there wasn't even a mumble in Japan, a country who has close ties to America. I didn't even know that the Prime Minister had changed until I noticed weeks later on the internet that his name has 首相 next to it on a news article!
    I think this summarises well what I mean.

    I don't know whether to say Japanese are superficial and shallow, or if socially that's just how it works.
    Why should it be one or the other ? It is probably the way it works socially because the Japanese mindset is like that.

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  4. #79
    Cute and Furry Ewok85's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Maciamo View Post
    Why should it be one or the other ? It is probably the way it works socially because the Japanese mindset is like that.
    Well, Japanese try to not bring up topics that other people may have a strong opposition to, thus politics is instantly out. When me and my friends talk about politics we abuse each other like you wouldn't believe. If you all agree, its a short and boring "conversation".

  5. #80
    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ewok85 View Post
    Well, Japanese try to not bring up topics that other people may have a strong opposition to, thus politics is instantly out. When me and my friends talk about politics we abuse each other like you wouldn't believe.
    I don't think that discussing foreign cultures, history or society in general may engender a stronger opposition from the other party than talking about sports (for some people). Yet the Japanese do talk about sports (e.g. baseball).

    If you all agree, its a short and boring "conversation".
    That's also how I see it. I don't think the Japanese always agree when discussing their tastes or hobbies. The problem is not that they avoid disagreement, but avoid "intellectual" topics.

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    Horizon Rider Kinsao's Avatar
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    Hmmm. This is originally a very old thread...
    I think it's insulting to Japanese people to say "the Japanese are superficial".
    I doubt whether they, as individuals, are any more "superficial" than people from any other nation or race.
    Perhaps it would be fairer to say that Japanese society and culture currently does not encourage a lot of interest in political issues.

    These things go in fashions... In any country, at any one time, people's general intelligence kind of averages itself out - you get some brainy people who enjoy "deep thinking" and intellectual discussions, some people who aren't intelligent at all, and the majority who are somewhere in the middle. But there are trends about how it's fashionable to appear... sometimes it's the in thing to be seen as "intellectual", politically-aware, studious, investigative, or whatever; at other times it's more fashionable to be seen showing off your material possessions, your money, your job, your physical strength, or something else. And of course, this doesn't just depend on prevailing trends but on the circles you move in.

    A lack of interest in things like politics, history, or other countries and cultures isn't necessarily an indication that the Japanese people are particularly "superficial", but merely that their interests and priorities lie elsewhere.

    Personally, when I overhear conversations in England between ordinary "people on the street", in cafes, in pubs and bars, waiting in line, on public transport, etc. etc., they are very seldom about deep, meaningful and significant things. Most often they are about personal relationships, money, possessions and home improvements. ( ) Perhaps the English are a superficial race, too.

    I am woefully ignorant about history, politics and other countries and cultures, and I rarely take part in any discussion or conversation that you'd call "intellectual" or possibly even "intelligent". However, I'd still take exception if someone was to call me "superficial"; I think perhaps the word has a bit different connotations here?

    Nevertheless, it appears to me as a racist generalisation, because it implies certain personal characteristics about Japanese people as individuals, whereas it's fairer to say that Japanese society functions currently in a certain way that encourages and discourages particular emphases.

  7. #82
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  8. #83
    Danshaku Elizabeth's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kinsao View Post
    Hmmm. This is originally a very old thread...
    I think it's insulting to Japanese people to say "the Japanese are superficial".
    I doubt whether they, as individuals, are any more "superficial" than people from any other nation or race.
    Perhaps it would be fairer to say that Japanese society and culture currently does not encourage a lot of interest in political issues.
    Yeah, honestly....it isn't accidental that Okinawans for instance can boast a longer life span and overall good health than for all purposes any other peoples on earth. It is in large measure due to their diet and genetics but accompanying that a lack of lifestyle stress, extreme laid back attitudes and social interactions, not to mention making relationships and enjoyment of nature a priority over "intellectual" or "staid artificial" pursuits. The ebb and flow of political ideology is constant, there will always be the acendance of one philosophy or another outside of any individual's control, whether it is argued to death (literally) or not, but who can dispute the positive effects of a low-stress, slow-paced lifestyle as not an equally natural and evolutionarily beneficial organization of life, on an individual and communal level ???

    It isn't the case with Japanese living in cities of course, which would be a stretch to label relaxed or easygoing, but at least there is more of a balance than it seems in other countries. The point of everything having to be politicized and rationalized even if it doesn't accord with physical and emotional good health or wellbeing I have a lot of trouble accepting as somehow more natural or "innately" superior.

  9. #84
    Horizon Rider Kinsao's Avatar
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    I suppose it also depends on the individual person's attitude. I mean, discussion of politics and political issues can be an interesting and entertaining "brain exercise" without necessarily leading to stress... whereas some people might find that kind of thing more stressful.

    Similarly, I find discussion about people and/or relationships to be quite "intellectual" in nature because such topics deal with psychology, even if the people holding the conversation don't realise that's what they're engaged in and don't use "intellectual" terminology. And pretty well everyone on earth talks about other people! It's surprising how much really complicated interaction and stuff goes on within a conversation that sounds shallow and rather ordinary on the surface.

  10. #85
    Danshaku Elizabeth's Avatar
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    Similarly, I find discussion about people and/or relationships to be quite "intellectual" in nature because such topics deal with psychology, even if the people holding the conversation don't realise that's what they're engaged in and don't use "intellectual" terminology.
    It's the same with explanations I receive as a student from my Japanese elders and discussions we engage in on language issues which tend to be very patiently considered, diligent and thorough for what I'm interested in on a practical level. Not a lot of linguistic or grammatical analysis but something that can always be referenced for day to day affairs and the business of living.

    The word superficial I agree gives the totally wrong impression that makes it sounds like they are lazy or out partying until all hours...

  11. #86
    Regular Member misa.j's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kinsao
    It's surprising how much really complicated interaction and stuff goes on within a conversation that sounds shallow and rather ordinary on the surface.
    Exactly. I think it depends on what kind of topics you see as an "intellectual" conversation, or how intellectual you are. Some people with a good skill use their technique and knowledge and make very simple subjects such as weather, food, or even fashion deep and interesting. Maybe that is what seems to be missing in some of the Japanese when you try to communicate with them in either Japanese or other language.

    I have to say the list is a good observation and very funny, though!

  12. #87
    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Similarly, I find discussion about people and/or relationships to be quite "intellectual" in nature because such topics deal with psychology, even if the people holding the conversation don't realise that's what they're engaged in and don't use "intellectual" terminology.
    Despite that, I still do not find most discussions to qualify for the "intellectual" terminology... I do not label my discussion of "intellectual" when I am talking with someone. I never say "oh, let's have an intellectual discussion".

  13. #88
    Danshaku Elizabeth's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by misa.j View Post
    Exactly. I think it depends on what kind of topics you see as an "intellectual" conversation, or how intellectual you are. Some people with a good skill use their technique and knowledge and make very simple subjects such as weather, food, or even fashion deep and interesting. Maybe that is what seems to be missing in some of the Japanese when you try to communicate with them in either Japanese or other language.
    I have to say the list is a good observation and very funny, though!
    Having a conversation friend that is constantly wracking their brain to come up with fresh and thoughtful insights on any subject, traditionally 'intellectual' and not, can also radically shift the emphasis from the interpersonal to the academically technical or impersonal. Without a doubt I can say I would rather be with a Japanese person for the positive attention and feelings of protection they lavish, stifling as it may be at times, than any European or most Americans I've met here....

    My bf has the mental and emotional frames in a very healthy balance (for me anyway....). Sharp and perceptive enough to be truly engaging without letting that overwhelm the full interaction. He is also a system engineer that never talks much about his work, though, which I kinda don't like as much....
    Last edited by Elizabeth; Dec 6, 2006 at 00:09.

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    Danshaku Elizabeth's Avatar
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    I am woefully ignorant about history, politics and other countries and cultures, and I rarely take part in any discussion or conversation that you'd call "intellectual" or possibly even "intelligent".
    I used to be a lot better versed in stuff like this, particularly until I found Japanese which I challenge anyone not to be called deep and profound.
    The main turnoff, though, was in a battle of ideas that is all a lot of hard core debaters are truly seeing. It's like having a partner as a disembodied brain -- everything but your mind and thoughts goes completely under their radar which becomes extremely frustrating and empty in the quest for a true busom friend or life partner that appreciates a person in all their aspects. Plus the utter futility of individual argument having any impact whatsoever on the larger system....

  15. #90
    Regular Member Han Chan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Maciamo View Post
    - their favourite topic of conversation is food
    I agree that japanese in general are very interested in good food. However, I do not think that this makes them superficial.


    Most people in the west eats crap food even though they could afford to eat much better food. This lack of sense of taste and quality can hardly be taken as a proof that people in the west should be any less superficial than the japanese.
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    Danshaku Elizabeth's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Han Chan View Post
    I agree that japanese in general are very interested in good food. However, I do not think that this makes them superficial.
    The socially accepted outlets for so-called intellectualism, solitary reading of books and newspaper publication sales are near the highest in the world. Spoken language is often more mundane. Because people who don't care about imposing their own knowledge at everyone else's expense find it easier to connect emotionally with their audience or partner. What a bizarre perspective....

  17. #92
    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Han Chan View Post
    I agree that japanese in general are very interested in good food. However, I do not think that this makes them superficial.
    The French and Belgian are also very interested in good food, but it isn't the main topic of conversation, even at the restaurant !
    Most people in the west eats crap food even though they could afford to eat much better food.
    What is the West for you ? North America and Scandinavia ? Have you been to a country called France and another called Italy ? Hint : that's in Europe, a bit more south than Danmark.
    Btw, food in Japan is much cheaper than in Europe. You can have bento, a tendon or Chinese food for 3 or 4 euro, and a set of 12 sushi for take-away cost only about 5 euro.
    This lack of sense of taste and quality can hardly be taken as a proof that people in the west should be any less superficial than the japanese.
    No it only proves your ignorance about Western cuisine.

    Quote Originally Posted by Elizabeth View Post
    The socially accepted outlets for so-called intellectualism, solitary reading of books and newspaper publication sales are near the highest in the world.
    If only what they were reading was intellectual. I repeat myself but you won't find any intellectual magazines in a Japanese convenience store, just manga, porn, manga with porn, tabloids with porn and fashion magazines.

    If what they read was so "intellectual", how comes they would remain so ignorant of things of the world, so ignorant even of their own history ? This shows how casual an activity reading is in Japan. It's not because Japanese students spend more time studying during and after school than almost anybody else in the world that they learn more. In fact if they didn't go to school at all, and didn't read any books as adults, it wouldn't change much. I often feel they have no memory, or no sensitivity to understand what they are reading. I have been a teacher and I was in a good position to know about their memory.
    Last edited by Maciamo; Dec 6, 2006 at 02:11. Reason: Automerged Doublepost

  18. #93
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    Goodness Maciamo, sometimes I think you over analyize things too much.

    I guess it comes down to what each of us defines as "intellectual."
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    Japanese typically do not discuss their country's politics with foreigners,same as whites rarely do with Asians and others in Ameirca.There was a period of time,it was society norm for Japanese girls to be married at the age of 25.

    Average Americans always talk about money and sex.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ma Cherie View Post
    Goodness Maciamo, sometimes I think you over analyize things too much.
    I guess it comes down to what each of us defines as "intellectual."

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  21. #96
    Danshaku Elizabeth's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Maciamo View Post
    The French and Belgian are also very interested in good food, but it isn't the main topic of conversation, even at the restaurant !
    And what about chefs and other world renouned cuisine experts ? Are they the most superficial of all for not spouting their views on politics and literature in every public statement ? This is such a load of illogical baloney it isn't even worth the two minutes it took me to respond this time.

  22. #97
    Regular Member Sukotto's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Maciamo View Post
    - their favourite topic of conversation is food
    - clothes do make the man in Japan (which explain the success of brand clothes, black suits and even that of cosplay, bunny girls or the importance that Japanese women attach to their wedding dress)
    just 2(for now)

    -topic of conversation
    in the US, at least where I live, people of often talk about "the weather". Seems a bit more superficial to me than food. Or "How 'bout dem Packers".
    You almost cannot get away from either one.

    -clothes. In the US there is this too. I thought in "the land of the free" you could wear any clothes you wanted. But social rules are pretty strong -especially in parts of the country. Then there are so many uniforms (for work) in the "land of individuality", both official and unofficial: see social rules.
    I used to think the US was way too conformist before I started studying Japanese language (and thus the culture that it describes). So I have a different point of view I guess.
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  23. #98
    Sister Earth Goldiegirl's Avatar
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    Dem Packers suck. Oh, sorry that wasn't intellectual.

    Anyway I had very lively discussions over lunch and dinner while visiting Japan. Most of what we talked about was American Politics. Everyone wanted to know if Hillary Clinton had a chance at becoming the next President. They wanted to know what the average American thought of the war/occupation of Iraq. Sure we also discussed food, but it certainly wasn't the main topic of conversation. The other thing that made me feel at ease, was that everyone kept asking me questions about what life was like in my hometown/state...I don't believe for a minute that it was just idle, superficial chatter. Maybe it was because I was just as curious about them as they were of me. I didn't prejudge them or expect anything from them, but just took everyone for what they were, not necessarily what I would want them to be.
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  24. #99
    Regular Member Han Chan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Maciamo View Post
    The French and Belgian are also very interested in good food, but it isn't the main topic of conversation, even at the restaurant !
    What is the West for you ? North America and Scandinavia ? Have you been to a country called France and another called Italy ? Hint : that's in Europe, a bit more south than Danmark.
    Btw, food in Japan is much cheaper than in Europe. You can have bento, a tendon or Chinese food for 3 or 4 euro, and a set of 12 sushi for take-away cost only about 5 euro.
    No it only proves your ignorance about Western cuisine.
    I do appreciate that many countries in the west have very nice cuisines. I have been dining in most european and north american countries and because I try to avoid junk food I have had many nice experiences. My point is that even though the consumers there easily could choose nice food they often eat very low quality food.

    I do not have low regard for western cuisine rather I find that the consumers in general could learn something from the more choosy japanese.

    Though you like to call me (and anyone else who have slightly different points of view from you) ignorant, I do not have any problems praising belgian cuisine - actually one of my favorite restaurants is Chez Leon in Bruxelles (they serve nice oysters and mussels!). May I say: Oishi - without beeing blamed for beeing superficial?
    Last edited by Han Chan; Dec 6, 2006 at 23:28.

  25. #100
    Cute and Furry Ewok85's Avatar
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    Intellectual doesn't have to be the meaning of life. Talking about food can be interesting and thought provoking.

    For example I have had some good conversations with people at work about food and more specifically cooking, and been given some great tips - this is a good conversation.

    Another good topic that comes to mind was one talking about driving licences, problems and differences between Japan and Australia. We were both surprises - I was surprised that Japanese driving licences need to be constantly renewed in a long and painful fashion thats there to raise revenue, and they were surprised at the ease in which I can renew my licence (simply pay the money and get photo taken at one of many "service" locations) and can opt for a 10yr licence if I wish.

    Edit: Its coming up to the bonenkai time of year, take note of what others are talking about and bring it up here. Should be interesting.

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